Illegal campsite dilemma as calls come for removal
FIFTY metres from one of Byron Bay's most prestigious redevelopments, hidden in the sand hills behind Main Beach are several illegal campsite.
The Byron community's renowned hospitality, generosity and spirit of live and let live means we all tolerate their existence.
The Byron Shire News has visited a few of these camps over past weeks and its clear many of those living in the camps are homeless, suffer from mental illness or substance abuse problems.
Others are just looking for a cheap place to stay. If authorities move them on there is often nowhere for these people to go as there is a shortage of crisis and low-cost accommodation in the shire.
Miles Shorten, from the Green and Clean Awareness team, said his group was concerned at the, "worsening environmental damage to the delicate dune landscape from illegal campsites plus threats to public safety from disturbed individuals who often occupy these camps."
For 17 years the Green and Clean team have repaired the dunes on behalf of the community with joint support of volunteers, businesses, funding agencies and Byron Shire Council.
Now the group is urging police to proactively survey the camps weekly and evict their occupants.
"A fortnight ago, whilst inspecting vandalised beach fencing, I was followed, abused and threatened by a disturbed and agitated camper," Mr Shorten said.
"This happened just steps away from a very high use area of the beach and I am concerned it may only be a matter of time before a volunteer or member of the public is similarly harassed or assaulted.
"This problem has increased significantly in the last three years. Rubbish and human waste are left around, fences are vandalised, dunes are eroded, weeds are spread and fires are lit.
"The dune reserve supports 55 types of naturally occurring plants, but their regeneration is increasingly under threat."
Byron Shire Council's acting compliance team leader Scott Brodie said staff were very aware of the situation and regularly attended the area.
"With very limited crisis accommodation, social housing and support services, it can be very challenging in Byron Shire," he said. "If genuinely homeless people are not causing problems, rangers will use their discretion in moving them on.
"However, behavioural issues and threats to safety are reported to the police.
"The added challenge is that when the people are moved from one area, they often have no choice but to move to another location."
Council is in contact with support agencies to find a better outcome.